Our River concert was reviewed online in The Beat magazine by The Beat editor Richard Young.
The Karen Schuessler Singers closed out their season with an impressive evening of music, poetry and art celebrating London’s Thames River on Saturday night. Inspired by The River Project: 19 Artists Turn to the Thames, which brought together 19 artists to celebrate and honour the Thames River in a touring exhibition, the 18 song repertoire exhibited the kind of variety that has become a hallmark of the critically acclaimed 38 voice choir and its conductor, Karen Schuessler. A bevy of musical and artistic guests joined KSS in paying homage to the river that flows through the City of London, yet is often taken for granted by many of its citizens.
Our River concert was highlighted in this article from issue 617 of Scene Magazine.
The River Runs Through Us
Karen Schuessler Singers are set to pay musical tribute to our heritage river, the Thames, for their next concert at Wesley-Knox United Church. River: Reflections on the Thames will feature music by London composer Jeff Smallman, poetry read by Don Fleckser and will feature a visual art display arranged by chorister Kevin Bice.
“When I was growing up, we weren’t encouraged to dip our hands in the Thames, but that is slowly changing,” remarked conductor Karen Schuessler. “You can’t go anywhere in the city without crossing the river, sometimes several times. There are 54 species of fish that live in the Forks alone and a tremendous amount of fauna – foxes, bald eagles, otters, herons, cormorants – living in that river basin; the wildest area of London. It’s the real deal, right in the middle of the city,” she said.
The concert program deals with four aspects of the river: environmental history, pleasures such as canoeing, river as metaphor, and lastly, Londoner’s relationship to the Forks. The choir will perform two Smallman pieces that were recently commissioned by KSS as a gift to high school students of the city of London. “The music is gorgeous, lush. The other piece is rhythmic, like Gordon Lightfoot,” said Schuessler. The program also includes River of Dreams (Billy Joel), Shenandoah, Shall We Gather at the River and Down to the River to Pray from the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack. KSS tenor Kevin White and local songwriter Roxanne Andrighetti will also perform their Thames-inspired pieces. The London Waldorf Grades 4-8 Choir will also attend and sing The River Thames Song composed by the principal Merwin Lewis.
The Thames was designated as a Canadian Heritage River in 2000, thanks to the sustained efforts of environmnetal activists, notably Dr. Douglas Bocking, former vice Prevost of Health Sciences at UWO, and Cathy Quinlan, territorial biologist with the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority.
The arts community responded enthusiastically to the river revitalization. A collective gathered together for the River Project, which culminated in an exhibition at the McIntosh Gallery and a book published in 2008. SCENE, the London Public Library and the London Free Press also launched similar river related stories.
“The Forks really is the pulsating heart of this town,” said Schuessler. The concert takes place May 29 at 8PM. See the Arts Listings for ticket details.
The River concert was inspired by The River Project: 19 Artist Turn to the Thames, which brought together 19 artists to celebrate and honour the Thames River in a touring exhibition, and ultimately in the publication of the River Project. Our concert will include an exhibition by a number of the River Project artists. Shown above are the displayed works of Annemarie Plint and Kevin Bice. Kevin is a multi-talented artist and tenor in the Karen Schuessler Singers.
As a chorister I am always amazed at all the elements that contribute to a production. On Tuesday we added several musicians to the rehearsal including Amy O’Neill, whose piccolo just sparkled on top of the choir. Don Fleckser gave us a good taste of what narration at its finest can be. He has such an engaging style and a sense of humour that keeps you hanging on every word. My photographs worked well along with the music, and will help create a sense of river.
Our work is pretty well done. A little rest for the voice, and final preparations for River.
I spent about 45 minutes tonight enjoying a private art show in the gym of Wesley-Knox United Church. Tomorrow night after our River concert the audience will be invited into the same gym for a post-concert reception, and installed on two walls will be works from 2008′s The River Project: 19 Artists Turn to the Thames.
Kevin Bice, Anne-Marie Plint, Maurice Stubbs, Johnnene Maddison, Cornelia Hoogland, Marion Drysdale, Ray Jackson and Iris Waddell are the artists participating in the remounted show. There will also be displays about river wildlife and preservation.
I found myself wishing I had been in the gym earlier in the day, when the works were hung by KSS choristers Kevin and Daphne Bice, along with participating artist Maurice Stubbs. I love watching behind-the-scenes activities, and would have enjoyed taking some photographs of the action. As it was, I did manage to sneak a few close-ups of some of my favorite pieces from the show. Detail of Twilight by Annemarie Plint. I’ve been a fan of Plint’s work for some time, and love her expressive use of brushstrokes. The colours she chooses for her landscapes are also delicious. Detail from Journey by Annemarie Plint. Detail from Spring Flood Aftermath by Maurice Stubbs. Detail from Tree Roots in the Thames by Johnnene Maddison. Fibre artist Maddison is another longtime favorite of mine, probably because I enjoy creating fibre arts myself. I love the way she’s used stippling and running stitches to create depth in the water, above. Detail from Being the Last Known Speaker of the Language by Cornelia Hoogland. Detail from Askunessipi by Irene Waddell. Askunessipi is the Anishinaabe (Ojibway) name for the Thames River; it means Antler River. Narrator Don Fleckser will be giving a reading about the Native history of the Thames during our River concert.
Michelle Lynne Goodfellow is KSS’ Director of Communications
“A leading choir take The River Project to new places on Saturday.
“In one of this weekend’s late-season choral concerts, the Karen Schuessler Singers take inspiration from 2008′s multi-media The River Project, a group of 19 artists who produced works of art about the Thames River within London.”
I love sitting in on KSS dress rehearsals, because it’s often the first time I can get a feel for how the whole concert fits together. I didn’t know ahead of time how a river-themed program was going to “gel”… and was unexpectedly moved by many of the songs and readings as the evening unfolded. Sometimes I think we don’t realize how lucky we are here in London, to live along a river…
The singers and musicians assembled for 7:30 p.m.
Karen didn’t waste any time getting to work.
One of our special guests for this concert is London theatre personality Don Fleckser. Don is narrating a number of readings about rivers, which are interspersed between the songs. Selections include a history of the Thames from the perspective of the Native Canadians and European settlers, as well as poetry and prose about rivers in general.
Local singer/songwriters Kevin White (below) and Roxanne Andrighetti will be performing their songs about rivers and/or the Thames.
Of special interest to me were our two commissions by local composer Jeff Smallman. We are also featuring several other Smallman works on the program. All of Smallman’s work is stunningly beautiful; I was especially taken with Becalmed, set to poetry by Native Canadian poet Pauline Johnson. One of our commissions requires four hands at the piano – a task capably undertaken by KSS accompanist Ron Fox and chorister Marque Smith.
Other musicians on the program include Rob Larose on percussion, Steve Clark on bass, and flautist Amy O’Neill.
Chorister John McFall has assembled a slideshow of river photographs that will provide a visual counterpoint to four of the songs on the program. There will also be an art show after the concert, featuring works by artists from The River Project: 19 Artists Turn to the Thames. It promises to be a great evening. Find more details about the concert here. Michelle Lynne Goodfellow is KSS’ Director of Communications.
What songs do the singers themselves particularly like in our upcoming River concert? All of the pieces have something to do with rivers, but these ones are particular favorites:
“I have a few pieces in this concert that fit into my favourite category… I find myself humming In the Shadows and Becalmed [one of our commissions from Jeff Smallman] every so often. The melodies are relaxing and compelling, and with family ties in Cape Breton, I can appreciate Song for the Mira, particularly when I hear stories about the river from long ago. This will be a lovely concert, commemorating the River (our Thames, as well as others) and the life that continues to flourish along the banks.”
“In The Shadows and Becalmed! They make the scenery easy for me to imagine. Deep River is calm and reassuring.”
“This concert is made up of beautiful, melodic pieces – all a joy to sing. A couple of my favourites are Becalmed and Shenandoah for their beautiful melodies. Shenandoah shows off our awesome men’s sections.”
“I will probably be in the minority, but my vote goes to the River of Dreams by Billy Joel. This song has lyrics that we all can identify with, as it describes a person at a crossroads – knowing that something is missing but unable to find it. The lyrics include wonderful images such as ‘mountains of faith,’ ‘valley of fear,’ ‘jungle of doubt,’ and ‘desert of truth,’ used to describe the feelings which so many of us experience at some point in our lives. Also, the gospel-sounding vocal backup to the solo [by KSS bass and local music director Marque Smith] adds to the spiritual feel of the song. No wonder it was so popular back in ’93 when it first hit the charts! But it has an enduring quality that prevents it from becoming dated.”
Becalmed – Smallman (commission) Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon, arr. Shaw Deep River – arr. Ringwald Down to the River to Pray – arr. Lawson Home and the Heartland (Riverdance) – Whelan In the Shadows – Smallman Kicking-Horse River – Smallman River (The Mission) – Morricone River of Dreams – Joel Shadows on the Tide – Smallman (commission) Shall We Gather At the River? – arr. McIvey Shenandoah – Chilcott Song for the Mira – McGillvray The Frog and the Crow – Smallman
Well-known London theatre personality Don Fleckser will be reading several narrations at our upcoming River concert, including the following poem by African-American poet Langston Hughes. Hear Hughes explaining the origin of the poem in this YouTube video:
I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young. I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep. I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it. I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.
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